Working from home is becoming increasingly popular with both employees and business.
Some of the benefits for employees are obvious
- no commuting time or costs
- flexibility to work when they choose and around other commitments
- greater sense of work-life balance
And the benefits for the business can also be significant
- lower overheads
- higher productivity
- attracting high calibre people
- inspiring loyalty and longevity from employees
At VoicePlus we began the journey into managing a remote workforce when a long-serving and loyal employee had to move back to her country of birth in New Zealand to care for an ill family member. For the past three years, Eileen has been managing our incoming telephone calls for the first half of each day. She has a camera that allows her to see who is at their desk in Sydney and the use of seamless technology means callers are unaware of her location. She knows our business, our customers, and is grateful for the continuity of employment. It is a win-win for both employee and the business.
Since that early foray into remote workers, VoicePlus now has a fulltime systems developer who is based in the Czech Republic, a social media consultant who lives in the United States, a fulltime business intelligence service team based in Pakistan, and we use a website design consultancy in New Zealand. Our sales team and account managers are also encouraged to be out of the office visiting customers and they work from home when it is sensible to do so.
Consider these 4 issues when making a decision whether to allow an employee to work from home.
- How do you ensure your remote worker stays up-to-date with shifts in strategic thinking, moving deadlines and changing priorities?
- How do you maximise their contribution to group brainstorming or policy debates?
Communication is the cornerstone of a successful remote workforce. A small investment in modern communications technology and ensuring everyone is comfortable with using it can alleviate most concerns. Also having some routine communication times, regular virtual meeting slots, and a means for calling an emergency virtual meeting.
Some communications tools to consider include:
- Video conferencing - at VoicePlus we use Go To Meeting or Skype
- Document Collaboration tools - we use SharePoint
- Project Management Collaboration Tools - we use JIRA
- Instant Messaging
Employees collaborate best when they feel a personal connection with each other. So don't under-estimate the importance of the face-to-face meetings or bonding sessions on an ad hoc basis.
2. Tracking Productivity
In 2013, Stanford University conducted a study by randomly assigning employees at a call center to work from home and others to work in the office for nine months. The result was a 13% performance increase by those working from home, of which 9% was from working more hours.
People criticize working remotely because they find it difficult to measure the number of hours their employees are working. There are two points to make here:
1. Going into the office does not equal productive work. According to The Wall Street Journal, workers are interrupted or self-interrupted on average once every 3 minutes, and once thrown off can take an average of 23 minutes to re-focus on task.
2. Evaluate on performance not presence. Focus on a results-oriented outcome. Longer hours do not equal quality outcomes. If workers have clear objectives and expected outcomes are clearly articulated then employers have a means of tracking productivity in a meaningful way. Create SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
3. Manager/Employee Trust
Just as managing employees based in the office is a leadership/management function, this remains equally or more so, with remote workers.
With employees based in the office, a manager can "see" that they are working and may find this reassuring that the business is getting true value - even if looks can be deceiving! With a remote worker, there must be a cooperative determination to develop and cultivate a climate of trust between the manager and the worker.
Managers must have clarity about how they wish to manage their remote worker. Accepting responsibility for effective management of a remote worker is essential to success.
A good manager will agree with a remote worker the
- behavioural boundaries - collaborative and responsive attitude,
- working practices - including compulsory communications and reporting requirements
- work/life priorities - how will these be managed, what if there is a clash?
- outcomes - what is expected, when, and how will it be delivered
Regular communication, collaboration, and setting clear expectations of working practices and outcomes will develop trust and foster immense goodwill.
Failure to cultivate practices which feed a relationship of trust, will result in a fear of exploitation and disappointment, and are likely to result ultimately in failure.
4. Corporate Culture
Working remotely can quickly result in employees feeling "out of the loop" and distanced from both colleagues and corporate goals.
It is easy to forget to include remote workers in important social news which may be commonly shared over the coffee machine.
Births, weddings, comings and goings - as well as working successes like a new contract signed, new customer secured, professional compliments - are worth sharing with your remote workers.
When remote workers feel that they are included in the corporate culture, it engenders a a sense of belonging, cameraderie and shared purpose.
Depending on your company size you might consider setting up a Company Bulletin Board or a Social Newsletter. Alternatively you could simply include remote workers in a Total Staff email group to share social news with them.
If practical include remote workers in Company-wide events whether they are such as Christmas parties, or work-related such as Year End presentations, Annual Conferences or Goal Setting brainstorms.